Saturday, 30 November 2013

Undead and Unsure by MaryJanice Davidson

The devil's dead, and the Antichrist is pissed.

Ah, the sophistication of modern chick-lit wit. Sassy, over the top hyperbole and proud of it. The people who are hooked by this stuff, I avoid, as naturally as getting indigestion.

That pretty much sums the whole thing right there.

Really! Meaning, there's no need to read on?

Well...there's one more thing: I killed the devil. And the Antichrist is my half sister.

Darn it, I was hoping I'd finished. One thing these sentences have going for them is their blunt, direct and challenging nature, but the flippant tone drowns out anything meaningful.

Take these lines for example:

Who makes their own butter?
When did we all decide we were living in Little House on the Prairie reruns?
I used to be heavily dependent on Hallmark.
"Sorry I killed your mom, who was also Satan. Also, Happy Thanksgiving."

There are more, every second sentence is woolly. The wit is overflowing off the page, spilling into my brain and short-circuiting the little grey cells.

First thing said:

"You weren't answering my calls or replying"

Yet, I'm fascinated by the state of conscious this style of writing requires from its readers.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Friday, 29 November 2013

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.

Another prologie (disposable characters in prologues) bites the dust and in the standard ghastly manner. Yet there is the foreshadowing of bigger problems and more death to come and I don't know about you, but my curiosity is swelling.

Paragraph 2 reminds us again:

It was the summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

Sounds like it's time to get out of Minnesota! The prologue is over before you realize it- it's short at one page.

Chapter 1:

Moonlight pooled on the bedroom floor.

What follows is some uninteresting exposition about bugs, hot weather, 1961, more heat, fans and a brother.

First thing said:


Why can't the first thing that's said in books nowadays mean something rather than be one-syllable words? Nevertheless, this gets 2.5 stars based on the promises made in the prologue.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Deadline by Sandra Brown

The first hail of bullets was fired from the house shortly after daybreak at six fifty-seven.

That is all there is to the first paragraph of the prologue. For some reason a gun fight doesn't hook the way it used to. It's almost as bad as opening with the weather, a hail of rain.

It was a gloomy morning.

But then it usually is when there's a gun fight involved. By the end of the prologue we have five dead prologies.

Chapter 1:

"What's with the hair?"
"That's how you greet a man returning from the war?"

Dialogue by persons unknown begins chapter 1. Names gush forth soon thereafter but names do not a character make.

First thing said:

"Hey, Turk, grab me a Coke while you're over there, will ya?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell

She frightened me at every dawn the summer I stayed with her.

Another story that subscribes to the begin with a pronoun philosophy, in which characters hide behind a veil of grammatical ambiguity. Twelve words with four pronouns. Tut-tut. The whole first page is one paragraph, but it needn't be, even though it is mostly about her hair. Whose? No idea. We can identify her only as the long-haired person. Her hair is apparently as long as her story and her hair ...dragged the floor.... That I would love to see in a movie.

Despite this lack of clarity, a conflict manages to suggest itself, but don't worry, it's easy to ignore: Someone is frightening someone for some unspecified reason.

The next two pages are one long paragraph crammed full with a collage of ideas, and then it dawns on me. This is artsy-fartsy literature, a genre in which plots are successfully buried in epic back stories, verbose description, poetry, and figurative entanglements moving at the digestive pace of a sloth.

At least we learn "her" name - Alma. Though by not using a name in sentence one, the opening line looks unnecessarily melodramatic. Nevertheless by a couple pages in, the author successfully switches from the pronoun to the proper noun effortlessly and actual people, not hes and shes and mes, start to populate the pages.

First thing said besides things that characters used to say all the time:

"Tell it."

And boy, does this narrator tell.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Notorious Nineteen by Janet Evanovich

"I don't know why we gotta sit here baking in your car in the middle of the day, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of this crummy neighborhood," Lula said.

Another opening that begins in a car with a character we know nothing about (Unless you read other books in the series, which we haven't - meaning we aren't hooked in any way, shape, or form.), complaining about the weather.

Of course, a little later we find out why they're in the car, but I'd rather the story begin with what happens after the stakeout, or in this case when the stakeout gets interrupted by some guy with a gun.

The dialogue that follows is comical, but I'm not laughing with the writing, I'm laughing at it. It's not realistic and sounds like Don Knotts should play Lula. I mean, a man is pointing a gun and the two women are discussing causally how accessorizing could be their doom, in banal attempts to be witty. Finally, they win the day and knock the guy out in an accidental slapstick manner, and I lose all respect for such a detective. Definitely a Don Knotts and Tim Conway scene.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

In the year 1908, Stanislaw Ludic Jurdabralinski, a tall, rawboned boy of fourteen, was facing a future of uncertainty.

Explained more with the next sentence.

Life in Poland under Russian rule was bleak and dangerous.

If you like history this opening will interest you. If you don't, this is a snoozer. I like history, but already being aware of this place and period, and having read books on this period before, I wonder if this one will be different. So I read on.

Uh...but this short three-paragraph prologue (the best kind) is not about the czar or prison camps. It serves more as an announcement that Stanislaw has said to hell with Poland and moved to America. The end. Why this little bit of back story couldn't have been slipped unobtrusively into the forward narrative when it became imperative to know, I guess, one will just have to read on to find out.

Chapter 1:

Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr., better known to friends and family as Sookie, was driving home from the Birds-R-Us store out on Highway 98 with one ten-pound bag of sunflower seeds and one ten-pound bag of wild bird seed and not her usual weekly purchase for the past fifteen years of one twenty-pound bag of the Pretty Boy Wild Bird Seed and Sunflower Mix.

This sentence fails. Let me count the ways: This sentence is long. If I can't even twitter it, it's long. This sentence is set in a car. This sentence is about bird seed. This sentence is about brands of bird seed. This sentence lacks tone. If it was witty in some way, it might have been redeemed, though I don't even think a witticism would save this one.

The next couple pages lurch into some back story and describe the character's drive, I suppose in homage to the opening of Manos: Hands of Fate.

First thing said:

"Oh...just to chat."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Haven by Kay Hooper

In the first few minutes of Catherine Talbert's escape, she did her very best to be as quiet as possible.

This is the prologue. There is an author's note at the beginning explaining some things about this series, but I ignored that. I'm interested in story, not a welcome-ladies-and-gentlemen introduction. Reading on a bit, we discover that yet another character in the world of fiction is escaping a crazed lunatic in a prologue reserved for the purpose. I like to call these characters prologies in honor of perogies. They are like the red shirts in Star Trek - disposable, and a writer can feel free to do unspeakable horrors to them, and all for the benefit of readers, to thrust us into the book quickly. That's right, today's reader, so it seems, wants blood and death early on and only once the thirst for blood has been satisfied, can they settle into chapter 1. We have come a long way since the Roman death-sport and bear baiting days.

So Catherine runs for a bit, climbs for a bit, then jumps for a bit and then dies for a bit. Despite the generic nature of this prologue (brief, violent, contextually confusing), it does raise some questions, a condition necessary for being hooked - but after you've seen this plot device a million times (okay, 32 times in two months), it gets monotonous. What I like about the opening line is that the character is trying to be as quiet as possible. I like quiet people, and a dilemma presents itself: How to escape without making a sound?

Chapter 1:

Emma Rayburn shot bolt upright in bed, at first conscious of nothing except her heart pounding and the suffocating sense of being unable to breathe.

Ah, a book that begins in bed with a nightmare, as we learn a bit further along. But before we scoff in judgement, there is some back story on page 2 that reveals that this character likes to dream about girls and women dying - it's her thing, and so we realize that we've been teleported into the realms of the paranormal thriller genre. It was kind of the author to slip this info in early or a new reader might stop reading without ever knowing anything about the premise - unless they'd read the author's note.

For myself, the only question this line raises is what does it mean to be conscious of nothing but a beating heart and a suffocating sense. Wouldn't the character also be aware that they are aware, or is that asking too much from today's modern brain? In any case, the line reads more like a movie shot. In a book it sounds melodramatic and overwritten.

First thing said:

"It's okay, girl."

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Night in the Lonesome October and Savage by Richard Laymon

I was twenty years old and heartbroken the night it started.

Preamble in first person.

My name is Ed Logan.
Yes, guys can be heartbroken, too. It isn’t an affliction reserved for women only.

Stalling the preamble in first person.

It's nice how Laymon sets the record straight. From now on, I'll refer women to this book, to straighten them out about the myth of the male broken heart. By page 2 we begin to get the patent violent thoughts and rage that is Laymon, followed by swearing and we presume, some horrific violence. At least he gets right to the point.

First thing said:

‘Holly isn’t home just now, but I’ll tell her you called.’

Verdict: Fail

I'll review another Laymon novel opening since I have the space...


London’s East End was rather a dicey place, but that’s where I found myself, a fifteen-year-old youngster with more sand than sense, on the night of 8 November 1888.

So begins a prologue. It gives us the fleeting glimpse of a character, but most importantly, the place and date, making sure we don't imagine this is present day California.

Chapter 1:

It was a lovely night to be indoors, where I sat all warm and lazy by the fire in our lodgings on Marylebone High Street. 

Fade in to setting. One almost expects Sherlock to enter in the next sentence. There is an effort to make this sound like it was written by Dr. Watson to create some period atmosphere, but in the end it sounds like a modern American trying to sound like a Victorian and failing. It shouldn't keep anyone from reading on (there are other things about this book to keep you from reading on), but it can be distracting.

First thing said:


Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Wifey by Judy Blume

Sandy sat up in bed and looked at the clock.

Because our day always begins in bed, some might think it's logical to begin a novel there. It really depends. Is there conflict in bed? If there were bedbugs or a dead body or dirty sheets then perhaps. Although, waking up is a problem for some people.

Quarter to eight. Damn!

However, in this case, the character is getting up too early and can stay in bed if she wants to but can't be bothered. Most readers know characters wake up every morning, so is there really any need to show it?

Then, suddenly, begins paragraph two. Sandy looks out the window to see a streaker on the lawn, standing beside a motorcycle, wearing nothing but a helmet and a bed sheet, who, in an act of excitement, engages in an obscene act of self-abuse for 27 seconds until said abuse reaches its climax. It's not often one reads of a climatic moment on page one of a novel.

At this point, I'm grateful for the first paragraph, as it accentuates the streaker scene, making it all the more bizarre, as it is, after all, 8 in the morning. Plus, the second paragraph's scene needs a plain paragraph to precede it, to lull the reader into a false sense of security, making the exhibitionist pervert all the more jarring, as if introducing a pervert so early in the book is as bad as seeing one so early in the morning.

First thing said:

“Did it make ridges in the lawn?”

The opening line is nothing to write about, but as it's part of the master plan of the opening scene, it can be forgiven - and forgotten for the greater good.

Verdict: Pass (3.5 stars) 

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 25 November 2013

Down the Darkest Road by Tami Hoag

Once upon a time I had the perfect family.

So people do still begin books with once upon a quaint. Though, if this sentence is any indication, it's easily understood why writers don't anymore. What a lazy sentence. It does nothing. Then it goes on to define perfect family: perfect husband (whatever that means), perfect children (whatever that means), perfect home (whatever that means) in a perfect place (whatever that means). How does the reader know they're perfect? Because the narrator uses the word perfect, duh. No need to infer or imagine anything, just trust the narrator - it's all perfect.

The second paragraph begins and ends with this sentence:

And then, as in all fairy tales, evil came into our lives and destroyed us.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? So simple, it's comical. But the short of it is that a daughter goes missing. How many stories of kidnapped children are there out there anyway? Anyway, now the perfect family sucks. I assume that also means the perfect husband sucks, the perfect house sucks, the perfect place sucks, etc.

Random unnatural sentence:

She showered quickly, hating touching her own body.

Overall, the piteous sentiment is as thick as cement on a turkey with lines like this:

She didn't deserve to look this good.
She felt like a fool.
Lauren succumbed happily.

If you don't think they sound hammy, try standing on top of a mountain and screaming them out with Herculean lungs and gnashing your teeth, hands to the heavens.

First thing said:

"Can I help you, ma'am?"

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Three Dog Night by Elsebeth Egholm

All he could think about was getting home.

The rest of the page is about walking home. It's New Year's Eve, there is noise, fireworks, ...threats of snow; ill-tempered and foul, like a portent of evil. A little overwritten but not entirely unenterprising. But despite the evil snow, our man likes walking. So he walks on. He sees a cottage. The wind whips. Beers are taking effect. A dog starts barking. The dog stops barking. He tries to wake a sleeping man. He can't. He gets into a sleeping bag and dreams of his late girlfriend. So ends chapter 1. Not exactly riveting.

Nevertheless, it's a moody opening; it's dark, just like what one might expect from a Scandinavian winter. It captures the setting, which is something like rural Denmark, if the blurb can be trusted. Those who like to travel but can't afford to might like this opening.

In any case, despite my flippant remarks, I do like it for what it is. But I need more. Chapter 1 of a book is like that first cup of coffee in the morning; it needs to kick my brain into obsequious alertness.

First thing said:

"Wakey wakey, Stinger."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Hercules Poirot Collection by Agatha Christie

Every murderer is probably somebody's old friend.

For our 100th post I would like to review the beginning of a few Hercules Poirot novels, which is fitting, as David Suchet just finished doing all of Hercules Poirot's stories a week or so ago. Rudy and I both like his adaptation of the penguin detective, so here are some of my favorites novels from the Dame of Murder. How do those opening lines stack up?

Curtain, Poirot's Last Case

Who is there who has not felt a sudden startled pang at reliving an old experience or feeling an old emotion?

I like how this preys on personal emotions. However, as the title explains, this is Poirot's last case and comes off a little too sentimental. And beginning a novel with a question is always a risky business. In this case, this question does not arouse my curiosity - it does not hook

First thing said:

"It'll be Captain Hastings now, won't it?"

Verdict: Fail

Murder on the Orient Express

It was five o'clock on a winter's morning in Syria. 

Weather and a dot on the map. Not much to begin with in this murder classic. One of the most classic murder mysteries ever does not have an opening line that is equal to the novel. Why? Are opening lines not important in days gone by, by a writer that has already made her name?

What follows is a technical brief on the train.

First thing said:

"You have saved us, mon cher." 

Verdict: Fail

Peril at End House

No seaside town in the south of England is, I think, as attractive as St Loo.

Straight out of a travel brochure. Those interested in England might be interested, but not I. This is not to say that setting is not important, but in a mystery, mystery comes first, followed by a few other things like character. There's no harm in mingling setting when needed., but writers shouldn't expect to hook many people if they begin that way.

First thing said:

 "So it said on our menu in the restaurant car yesterday, mon ami."

Verdict: Fail

Appointment with Death

"You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?"

This attracts attention, even though we don't know who is saying it and in what context. It could be a joke or the radio in the background for all we know - that is to say a false hook. But it hooks most people into reading on to find out who is saying this and why. That is to say, it raises questions.

Verdict: Pass

The ABC Murders

by Captain Arthur Hastings, O.B.E.

In this narrative of mine I have departed from my usual practice of relating only those incidents and scenes at which I myself was present. 

Chapter 1


It was in June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch in South America for a stay of about six months. 

This is pure exposition with back story and it bores. Though, to be fair it is told in first person and is about a series of events that have already happened, which needs to be made clear - or does it and so soon?

First thing said:

"But yes, my friend, it is of a most pleasing symmetry, do you not find it so?"

Verdict: Fail

Overall, rather disappointing beginnings. Obviously Agatha Christie is not remembered for her opening sentences, or opening chapters for that matter with the information dumps and introduction of umpteen characters. We all know though that if the reader invests time and gets to say page 50 or so, he or she starts to feel the pleasurable sting of being hooked.

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 22 November 2013

Gone with the Win by Mary Daheim

Judith McMonigle Flynn pulled her aging Subaru into the driveway, smiled at the sight of her husband's classic MG, and glanced up at the squirrel on the garage roof.

So we get two cars and a squirrel in this line. Then the paragraph proceeds with said character talking to said squirrel, explaining some back story to the squirrel. Of course the squirrel couldn't care less. I don't either, and so now I have a renewed admiration for squirrels. This opening sounds insane, in an Insidious kind of way, but it's not, not really. It's just the writer trying to hide a back story dump and introduce a premise using dialogue between a character and a squirrel. In a way, it should be clever.

First thing said (to the squirrel):

"Ha ha, you can't get me."

The ridiculous diatribe to the squirrel continues:

No scampering around inside the walls, no taunting the resident cat, no digging up my flower beds will faze me. I'm a liberated B&B innkeeper, free of outside interferences. I'm focusing on my family and my livelihood. And no more sleuthing for me! The only dead body I'm interested in will be yours if you steal any more of my tulip bulbs. Take that, my furry little friend!

The squirrel, if it's paying attention, is thinking: what's this lady on?

The dialogue doesn't get much better. It sounds forced, like how comatose evangelists speak when they're eyes are tired and they can read the teleprompter properly. Lots of dialogue of one or two word sentences on page 2 and 3:

Hold it!
I'm Blind!

There's even a couple without exclamation marks for those who can infer emotion without punctuation.

I never...

I kind of want to give this a pass because of the death threats to the squirrel, but the punned title seals the deal.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Eden crawled into the living room, the rough carpet burning her chubby knees and hands.

This is the beginning of another slice of not nice life prologue. Conflict in sentence 1 consists of rough carpet and chubby knees - not a great combo I'd imagine.

As boots slapped the hall floor, she went still, holding her breath.

Another writer experimenting with verbs, stretching meaning just beyond the safe limits of clarity and comprehension. But I do not think it means what you think it means. Boots slapping naughty floors is not so bad, though. Not as bad as burping guns or hobbled cars.

Fortunately, the scene quickly develops into the surreal with monsters.

Chapter 1:

I waited in the shelter drop-in center for my next appointment.

What follows is a description of a place: guilty giggles, voices wafting, bleached toys - you know, the usual things that make up an appointment room. Actually, I prefer this to a paragraph describing the walls. Describing with the nose is novel and much appreciated in today's visual world desperately trying to put the written word in terms of a TV show.

But there is no conflict unless being in an appointment room is gripping tension for you, and I bore easily.

First thing said"


This gets a 2.5 stars based on the prologue which is kind of creepy and surreal. However, it's still a prologue, a cheap rush to make the real opening (chapter 1) go down better.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Deadliest Game by Hal Ross

It was an unusually warm day for April, but the weather did nothing to brighten Khalid Yassin's mood.

Derp. According to the laws of Physics and Mathematics it's only possible to have one opening line per book and this writer uses his on a weather report. It isn't even an example of pathetic fallacy - meaning it's deviceless. A name is mentioned, but what's in a name? A character by any other name is still a stranger. But the scene that's unfolding gains a momentum all its own as this character's motives and anger towards America is revealed and it's this that saves this opening from being an epic fail.

Chapter 1:

In retrospect, Blair Mulligan came to realize he should have tried anything to stop him.

The problem with using pronouns in an opening is made apparent in the next line:

Even put a bullet in his head...

Huh? Whose head? Mulligan should have killed himself? Or some other unknown person? Pronouns make things vague; they make a mediocre sentence suck. So, the short of it is: we must back up with back story to figure out what's going on, where, why and to whom, though the back story is sparse in this beginning, scattered about unobtrusively, which is much appreciated.

First thing said in the first chapter:

"Thanks for seeing me."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Deadly Heat by Richard Castle

NYPD Homicide detective Nikki Heat double-parked her gray Crown Victoria behind the coroner van and strode toward the pizza joint where the body waited.

Setting, character - Ms. Heat, a car and a body. Not bad for one sentence. Unfortunately, the narrative takes a detour into back story before the reader has a chance to get comfortably hooked. That first line had my attention but then the back story took my feeble attention and spit it into the wind.

Ms. Heat freezes halfway through the door of the pizza joint and flashbacks a month's worth of activity in her brain before getting all the way through the door of that pizza place. Why? All for you dear reader.

I can just picture Ms. Heat frozen in mid-step, as she reviews her past for our benefit. It would have to be for at least as long as it would take to read it so perhaps for a minute, maybe more, if your attention wandered as much as mine did. The other detectives must have thought Ms. Heat slipped into a catatonic state or was constipated or maybe that Ms. Heat was just being mysteriously aloof because her colleagues don't pay enough attention to her - Ms. Heat, that is.

The back story wanders from Ms. Heat (she should consider a name change - forms here, Ms. Heat) being interviewed by a journalist to a suitcase being stolen from her mother's apartment to learning something at the deathbed of an old CIA controller to arresting Petar to hooking up with journalist to Ms. Heat's picture being published in newsstands.

Finally after almost three pages we get back to the present at the pizza joint door and the dead body waiting for the Ms. Heat's coveted attention with the first thing said:

"Coming in?"

That's one of the detectives asking Ms. Heat if she plans on standing in the door for the rest of the chapter.

It turns out the body had been baked in the oven. That and the opening line salvage this and give it a meh. The back story dump smothers it - page 1 is too soon for back story, even if it is Ms. Heat's.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Abuse of Power by Michael Savage

If the others knew what Abdal al-Fida was up to they would kill him.

This is not a bad opening sentence, except it's missing a comma - which is distracting. If a sentence begins with a subordinate clause, it needs a comma after said subordinate clause. This doesn't, and it ruins everything. I am like so totally disturbed right now.

The rest of the first paragraph:

Not fast, not pleasantly, and not just to make him suffer. These people killed the way others tweeted, to let people know they weren't happy. To discourage dissent.

I think the comma that should be in the first sentence slipped a couple lines. That's what happens when you don't nail down punctuation; it has a tendency to wander. I like the third sentence: ...killed the way others tweeted.... It's witty and distinctly communicates the kind of people Abdal is up against.

Chapter 1:

"Pump two," Leon said. "See it?"
"I see it," Jamal Thomas replied.

Then we get a sunset, and uh-oh, they're in a car.

It was just after sunset... Jamel squinted through the dirty windshield...

But at least there is no back story dump. The forward narrative plods forward despite the odds of beginning with dialogue by persons unknown, just after sunset and in a car. By page 2 we're introduced to the novel's Glock. I think I will start documenting in labels how many novels open with a Glock. They make me laugh; they remind me of something else.

This gets a 50-50 despite the missing-in-action comma. The prologue begins, as usual, more interestingly than chapter 1. The prologue here pumps up your attention only for chapter 1 to deflate it. But what can you do? That is the way with prologues.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende

A week ago my grandmother gave me a dry-eyed hug at the San Francisco airport and told me again that if I valued my life at all, I should not get in touch with anyone I knew until we could be sure my enemies were no longer looking for me.

So this line is what we mean by raising questions - several in fact. Who are these enemies and how murderously insane are they if she has to fly away? What did she do? And why isn't grandma crying? I mean, a dry-eyed hug sounds like a snub coming from grandma.

The next line is curiouser still:

My Nini is paranoid, as residents of the People's Independent Republic of Berkeley tend to be, persecuted as they are by government and extraterrestrials...

More questions: Is this some futuristic dystopian tale? Or is this a clever witticism? Either way, it intrigues and is out of the ordinary. The story begins without delay, as character, setting and tone are established. These first two sentences work their butts off and most people (I'd hope) wouldn't have the will power to stop reading.

First thing said:

"You're going to have time to get bored, Maya."

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Rudy Globird

PS: See Theo? I can give a four-star rating.

Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson

When the police apprehended me I was still carrying the book I'd stolen from the Oxfam bookshop in Chipping Norton, a pretty Cotswold town where I'd been addressing a reading group.

A novel that begins with a stolen book. I like this. Bonus that the scene that unfolds on page 1 is fascinating. A bunch of women, the reading group, are about to flame the narrator, an author, we presume, for using what the bunch of women perceive as sexist grammar. One lady had hundreds of passages marked with phosphorescent arrows pointing accusingly at the offensive pronoun 'he'.

First thing said:

"Why do you hate women so much?"

This could get nasty. It turns into an altercation about pronouns and their true meanings. 'He' is neuter so the narrator claims. But the women want him to admit that he stroke she is better. It intensifies as one lady who pronounces book like berk threatens to hit the narrator with his berk.

Random cool line:

"What's wrong with 'he stroke she'?" she challenged me, making the sign of the oblique with her finger only inches from my face, wounding me with punctuation.

Verdict: Cool ( I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Tragic by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Roger Karp grimaced as he stretched one of his long legs into the aisle next to his seat.

The conflict in this opening sentence is a grimace. The question: why grimace? Thankfully, in the next couple sentences we learn that it was because of an old college football injury. Unlikely to have anything to do with the novel's main story arch. At least we hope that the entire novel doesn't hinge on that grimace, for it doesn't exactly sound gripping. But this is a prologue so there is no need for it to do anything except get the word count up to an acceptably marketable level. The people in PR salivate over prologues.

The first page wanders along, revealing to us that the characters are sitting in cramped quarters watching a production of Macbeth, you know, that play, in Central Park. The short of it is that this is all an elaborate associative exercise designed to introduce a plot, which is a case Karp had already lived through, ending the prologue with:

It all began with....three young men sitting in a car on a cold winter's night, nine months ago, contemplating a horrific deed.

This is, overall, a brilliant execution of literary technique 48b, which, simply stated, is: "Hello reader, meet plot. Plot, meet reader. Now that you two are acquainted, I'll go away," mouths writer, winking.

Sure enough, as hyped in the prologue, chapter 1 begins in a car.

"Pra Klyast," the young man in the backseat of the Delta 88 Oldsmobile said in Russian.

Unpublished creative writing instructors all over the world would scoff at this. You see, it begins with foreign words English readers don't understand, and in a car, and with a character complaining about the weather. The only question this line raises is what the hell does Pra Klyast mean? Scanning through the pages does not answer it. I'm thinking - hey, will I need a Russian-English dictionary to appreciate this novel fully and grasp the fragile nuances?

But naked realism with Russian who speak not good English amuse me. Is quaint really.

To sum up, the title of this novel profoundly suits its opening. Clever.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.

This is a predictable way of saying: mother is dead and I'm not cool with that. Although, we aren't told this straight away, a grade three skill level is all that's required to infer this. Instead, the narrative takes a scenic detour with some descriptive writing, you know, setting and stuff. Only at the end of section one is our assumption confirmed. Momma's dead, and after scrounging around the dense narrative text, it's revealed three pages later that it's the narrator's fault. So despite the artsy-fartsiness, a plot is plotting to stand up through the imagery and bitter-sweet realism.

Isn't imagery like this reserved for university students getting ready to storm the world?

...lights twinkling on the canal bridges...scarves flying in the icy wind...
...Christmas carols that hung tinny and fragile in the winter air.
Chaotic room-service trays; too many cigarettes; lukewarm vodka....

Oh, the imagery!

The first chapter is a whopping 51 pages and if the first few pages are any indication, this one moves at the pace of a dead man farting. Oh, the imagery! That's right, unimaginably slow. Plus, the tone reeks sentimentality, so much so, that before long I feared there would be a little imaginary violin player roaming my brain playing death scenes from soap operas.

Oh and this is not a book to read on the way to work. It's heavy - tonnage-wise - not intellectual-wise, at least not in the opening scene. There's firewood lighter than this book.

First thing said:

"Ah, he's full, my lady."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Monday, 18 November 2013

Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol

We are never very far from those we hate.

How true, I think, bringing a hanky to dry the poignant tear in my eye. The rest of the first paragraph:

For this very reason, we shall never be truly close to those we love. An appalling fact, I knew it well enough when I embarked. But some truths deserve our attention; others are best left alone.

There is some philosophy here that leaves me wondering. My brain flexes, and it feels good. This paragraph reveals neat thoughts, a character, and foreshadowing while at the same time revealing conflict: no matter where we go, there is some moron lurking nearby deserving of our negative affection. It feels like Kafka (with some Dutch courage) is writing this. As well, there's a question: embarking to where?

For horror novels, it is nice when there is an opening line that chills the blood and at the same time encourages discussion. The opening line challenges the reader to argue or stand up against it. It is aggressive and insolent and shamefully true: We cannot escape our hate.

First thing said:

"Well, let's get going."

Verdict: Cool

Theodore Moracht

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

So begins a classic dystopian novel. The rest of the first paragraph is mostly description threaded together with conspicuous vocabulary (an Atwood trademark) like: palimpsest, forlorn, powdering, etc. There is not much else to say about this opening line. A slightly unusual situation is introduced - sleeping in a gym, and this raises the question why, but it's not like I'm burning to know, because it's not that unusual.

By paragraph 2 we get inside the head of the narrator and into the emotions of the dystopian world while at the same time the sexual element of the novel is introduced. But I'm not sure if the prose is trying to draw me into the story or lull me to sleep.

Chapter 2 begins with less promise:

A chair, a table, a lamp.

Lots of description and so moody. Moody beginnings turn some people on, but not me. I need more. That's right, I'm one of those needy readers who annoys writers with high expectations and a list of demands. I need to be manipulated, stimulated, titillated, entertained, informed, shocked, educated, horrified and hooked by the end of page one.

Only at the end of chapter 2, which does not bode well, do we get any dialogue.

"Tell them fresh, for the eggs."

Happy birthday, m'lady.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Tell Me by Lisa Jackson

His hand was cool as it slid up her leg, smoothly brushing her calf, tickling and teasing, causing her spine to tingle and a warmth to start in the deepest part of her.

The deepest part? Would that be her intestines? See, Grade 12 Biology does allow me to navigate through the misinterpretations. I'm glad I passed that subject so I can be confused (for entertainment purposes) later in life. Actually, it doesn't matter where - anatomically speaking - this conflict/scene is playing itself out, because this is part dream, part hallucination, and part, alas, stupid. The pronouns participate in making this vague - like a dream should be.

It ends with someone getting shot and still screaming as the world goes black. Personally, I don't think that's possible, but what do I know about dying?

No conflict here until we get the first thing said:


After this surreal prologue we get an interview with more pronouns. It's all mysterious and confusing as if you are actually dreaming this book and not reading it.

"Just tell me what you know about that night."

More "he" and "she" doing things to "it" and "them".

Finally Chapter one:

"I know, I know."

Thus begins a story that has nothing to do with the prologue and interview. An unsuspecting reader might get hooked by the prologue, but don't worry - the intelligent reader can safely manage to get unhooked a couple paragraphs into chapter one.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Orders from Berlin by Simon Tolkien

Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence division of the SS, stood to one side, a few yards away from the group of generals and admirals gathered around Adolf Hitler.

So here we have a bunch of Nazis standing around waiting for the story to begin with some sunshine, back story, and history to slow this down enough to be distracted by another book sitting on my desk. I suppose this historical fade in is necessary to a degree, as historical novels need a certain amount of context and set up, but it would be nice if it were in conjunction with a story problem.

Hitler says the first thing:

"We will go far together, you and I."

World War Two novels are interesting, but I need more in my beginning than establishing historical figures.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 15 November 2013

Mirage by Clive Cussler

Off the Delaware Breakwater
August 1, 1902

By the time the echo from the first knock on his door rebounded off the back of his cabin, Captain Charles Urquhart was fully awake.

Thus begins another prologue from Mr. Cussler. The last book I reviewed from him also had a prologue that began in a distant land in a distant place - far, far away from the plot.

But let's take a closer look at this sentence, shall we? The echo of a knock rebounds off the back of his cabin is certainly an image. What kind of acoustics are in this room? Breaking it down into a series of events might help. The knock sound travels and echos, we assume, while traveling to the other side of the cabin and then rebounds, boing, knock, knock...knock........knock, and comes back to the door of original said knock. How long this takes is anyone's guess, but I suspect it isn't long as the second sentence in this book can attest to:

A lifetime at sea had given him the reflexes of a cat.

Is that where cats get their reflexes? Being at sea? Perhaps the reflexes of a mackerel or octopus would have been more fitting. Still the character needs a second knock at the door to register that something is amiss. So there is a problem enlightening the opening pages which is nice, just that it takes an awkward sentence in a roundabout way to introduce it. I guess this is an attempt at contemporary innovation.

Anyway the rest of the prologue is about some weird killing phenomenon.

Chapter 1:

North Siberia
Present day

It was the landscape of another world.

What follows is description of a place. I never enjoy reading random travel guides. Boring.

First thing said:


I see no need to review more books by this author as he seems to do the same thing over and over again. However, I might just copy my old reviews of his books into a new review of his next release to create a new post with no effort at all.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Litter of the Law by Rita Mae Brown

Fair Haristeen, doctor of veterinary medicine, and his wife, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, loved to steal a Saturday and cruise the back roads of central Virginia.

This sentence introduces character and place, but no conflict or unusual situation, you know, the things that stories are made of. There's also a glimpse of tone and narrative voice. Some might say that is enough for a first sentence, and especially as this is part of a series, but that is assuming the reader is already hooked on the series. However, having read nothing from this series and knowing nothing about it, I can only shrug and say, "Okay, so?"

What follows is a bit of back story about how this couple used to hang out in high school. Nothing intense or unusual.

First thing said:

"Perfect weather."

Uh-oh. Once a character mentions the weather, the writer can't resist and the flood gates open, and we get a weather report.

The weird thing about this book is that a cat gets a byline (thereby really rubbing it in for all unpublished authors struggling out there: Ha-ha, you can't get published, but a cat can!), which elevates the "crazy cat woman" syndrome to a whole new extreme. But it's all in good fun, and there is a temptation to give this a pass, as I don't want to discourage cats from writing books.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Sycamore Row by John Grisham

They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected.

This sentence raises questions, one of which is promptly answered in the next line:

He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind. 

It's nice when a mystery story opens with a body. No set up, no sentimental descriptions of the area or the weather, no back story about what the dead man had had for dinner or how horrible his childhood was after Battlestar Galactica got cancelled. As well, what isn't written, speaks volumes: We can all hear the rope peacefully creaking. As well, I like that instead of being six feet under, this guy is six feet above.

The plot quickly thickens as clues and peculiar details emerge, bringing characters into sharper focus with each page, painlessly drawing the reader into the story and its world.

First thing said:

“Stay here now.” 

Verdict: Pass (3.5 stars)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Dust by Patricia Cornwell

The clangor of the phone violates the relentless roll of rain beating the roof like drumsticks.

I love this! I mean, come on, how does a phone violate the rain? I can just picture the rain sitting on the shrink's couch, in tears as he/she/it/whatever tells the whole sordid story. Or to be more precise: How does clangor violate roll? That's right, clangor is the subject of the verb violate and roll is the object of the verb violate. So the roll should be seeing the shrink for unspecified violations.

Plus, rain beating the roof like drumsticks is an unfinished simile. Drumsticks by themselves beat nothing, not unless they are in the hands of a drummer. So is the rain beating the roof, say Lars Ulrich style, or perhaps, Stevie Alder style, or like the little drummer boy? What's the rhythm? Or does this mean the rain is beating the roof as if the rain were using drumsticks? Or is the rain supposed to be like drumsticks falling on the roof? Does that mean it's raining drumsticks? And so I (quite unintentionally mind you) start thinking of chicken legs, and viola - it's raining chicken drumsticks. What fun!

 I sit straight up in bed, my heart leaping in my chest like a startled squirrel as I glance at the illuminated display to see who it is.

I can wrap my noggin around the image of a heart that leapt but of a heart leaping (present participle form of the verb at first suggests an action occurring over again - and like a squirrel to boot) requires some mental posturing. I've personally never seen a squirrel leaping when startled, which means jumping a long way. Cats I've seen though, but they're leaping up, rather than just leaping. To be fair, it would make sense to say, figuratively speaking mind you, my heart leapt out of my chest like a startled squirrel; however, a heart leaping in a chest like a startled squirrel merely sounds part demonic and part having the shakes from a chemical dependency withdrawal. So the impression my cluttered, wandering mind is conjuring up is that the heart is possessed by an evil junkie squirrel spirit freaking out in a rehab center.

Actually, present participle form of the verb can also mean that that verb is occurring at the same time as another verb in the past participle form, so this sentence isn't technically wrong, just lacking clarity. It's still entertaining, though for the wrong reasons.

Oh, my leaping heart - you leaping squirrel.

Random horrible sentence:

I almost can’t believe it.

Which almost means the person almost can believe it? Do I almost understand this sentence or should I almost read it again?

First thing said:

"What's up?"

I'd have given this a 1-star epic fail if it hadn't almost been so much fun to review. I'm definitely almost going to grab more books by this author.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

The safest way to write a diary was to imagine Stalin reading every word.

For people who aren't aware of the Stalinist regime this sentence might not be of much interest. For those who are aware of this demented history and it's leading demented historical figure, this statement will be obvious. On a story level, this sentence does a couple of things. It establishes setting and introduces conflict. Anyone interested in the period will be hooked. Nevertheless, a story problem begins to emerge by page two.

Next sentence:

Even exercising this degree of caution there was the risk of a slipped phrase, accidental ambiguity - a misunderstood sentence.

This reminds me of a story told by a Soviet official (perhaps Krushchev) after Stalin was dead and the thaw had begun. "If you looked directly at Stalin, he thought you were challenging him. If you looked away, he thought you were hiding something."

The beginning of this novel accurately captures the conundrum people living in that time and place were in: Praise might be mistaken for mockery, sincere adulation taken for parody.

First thing said (I think - as quotation marks are not used to identify dialogue, italics are.):

"The diary says nothing."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 11 November 2013

Heartbroken by Lisa Unger

Birdie Burke stood on the edge of the rock and watched the first light of morning color the sky a dusty rose.

Another sunrise. As many books begin this way, there must be tons of people who think beginning with the sun rising or setting hooks and is engaging. I'm not one of them. It's a super bad cliche. It's become more cliche than starting with: It was a dark and stormy night... as I have yet to come across that one.

What follows is a physical description of a seventy-five-year-old woman, or more correctly, thank god, what she used to look like. By page three we have a scene developing: someone is trespassing.

Chapter one:

The Blue Hen was bustling, and Emily had screwed up in at least three different ways since her shift began.

But nothing life threatening or too interesting. Basically, this line is about someone having a not so hot day. It annoys me. I hate hearing about other people's petty problems. What about me?

First thing said:

"Who's there?"

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

Prologue: The Aftermath

When a new bridge between two sovereign states of the United States has been completed, it is time for speech.

There is not much being offered here. This sentence sounds like it's from a news article or is a line from an encyclopedia entry, and it drags on into page two and bores me.

Chapter one:

Dr. Sarvis with his bald mottled dome and savage visage, grim and noble as Sibelius, was out night-riding on a routine neighborhood beautification project, burning billboards along the highway-U.S. 66 later to be devoured by the superstate's interstate autobahn.

Not bad. We have a character and a situation, which suggests some conflict. Even if it didn't, it is unusual enough to hook most people's attention.

The rest of the first paragraph:

His procedure was simple, surgically deft. With a five-gallon can of gasoline he sloshed about the legs and support members of the selected target, then applied a match. Everyone should have a hobby.

Everyone should have a hobby. A sarcastic, butt-kicking personality encourages most people to read on.

First thing said:


The prologue gets in the way. If it wasn't there, this would score higher.

Verdict: Cool (I want more)

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A Maze of Death by Philip K. Dick

His job, as always, bored him. 

And this sentence bores me. Sure, there's conflict: someone being bored. But it's not the kind of thing one wants to read about. It's easy to resolve, though, just have something happen in the book.

With the rest of the paragraph comes the hook. At least the author wastes no time.

So he had during the previous week gone to the ship’s transmitter and attached conduits to the permanent electrodes extending from his pineal gland. The conduits had carried his prayer to the transmitter, and from there the prayer had gone into the nearest relay network; his prayer, during these days, had bounced throughout the galaxy, winding up—he hoped—at one of the godworlds.

First thing said:

“Mr. Tallchief ...You’re being transferred.”

So the electronic prayer worked.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 8 November 2013

The October List by Jeffery Deaver

She stood at the window of the Manhattan apartment, peering through a slit in the drapes.

This novel begins at the end. It is subtitled: A Novel in Reverse. So this sentence (it's still the opening line of the novel, regardless of how the author wants to label it, as it's the first thing the reader sees), is technically the end or last sentence.

Anyway, it doesn't grab any attention. Just some random lady looking through the window. By the end of the first page there is the suggestion of a sniper out and about. But without context, we're lost without a care in this narrative world. One good thing is that with this title I was expecting early on a paragraph or two describing the season; however, the author resisted the temptation to describe an October day for those not in the know.

Chapter 1, which is at the end of the book begins:

I'm going to tell you what I need.

The next sentence makes the first redundant.

I need someone dead.

It's better than the opening line in chapter 36, or is the last line of the book supposed to be the first?

"Let's get to work."

Maybe this is supposed to be the true first line? I'm just mulling over my options here, though none of them hook me.

First thing (or last thing) said:

"Do you see anyone?"

I did consider giving this a pass (for effort), but...

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 7 November 2013

World War Z by Max Brooks

It goes by many names: “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” as well as newer and more “hip” titles such as “World War Z” or “Z War One.”

This begins the introduction. The next section, I assume is chapter one and begins like this:

[At its prewar height, this region boasted a population of over thirty-five million people. Now, there are barely fifty thousand...

The first outbreak I saw was in a remote village that officially had no name.

So, what we have here is a nonfiction feel to fiction; apparently, to make the story world feel more authentic  But as it sounds like a textbook, I'm losing interest, and am getting nasty high school flashbacks.

Unfortunately, with that nonfiction feel, comes an opening that is all telling, which most creative writing experts will tell you is a bad thing to do and a leading excuse for literary agents or editors to reject material by just doing a quick scan of submitted work.They love it - no need to read anything, and it saves lots of time. Plus, they get to say, "Hey, this tells and doesn't show!" So they get to sound like experts when they reject, should they even take the time.

However, with this story, I can't see it any other way - it needs to begin with telling. Just like Catcher in the Rye (though, for different reasons) and other genres where premise is a primary conflict as in dystopian. Certain genres (and first person narratives) sometimes work best with telling to start things off, and some stories are just meant to be that way. This is one. Plus, this telling reveals the narrative character.

The only conflict in this beginning is that there is a zombie war, which is conflict of the person vs. society type. For some, that's more than enough. However, it isn't enough to hook me, as I'm not the zombie type of guy. If it was a world war against a legion of creepy little Asian girls with long black hair hiding their faces all called Samara and Sadako, then I might read on.

In other words, this opening will hook if you're interested in zombies; if not, it offers little else.

First thing said:


Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

Look, unless you're writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron.

Tone? Check. Clever idea? Check. Plot? Nope. Character? Kind of...confusing.

Actually, in regard to clever idea or phrase, this line may well be, but original, it is not. We can hardly blame any writer nowadays for being unoriginal, either in a statement here or there or in a plot here or there; after all, everything that can be dreamed up has been dreamed up. Art today is the art of regurgitation.The best an artist can do is say, "Hey, it might not have been mine going down but that pavement pizza that came up is."

Note: My library copy had a previous borrower stop reading for the night on page two, as evidenced from the folded page. I guess, for someone, all that wit was too much to take in one go. The next folded page is page ten, then page eleven, then page nineteen. I assume not all by the same person, but revealing nevertheless, more so about the reader than the author in this case, as the pages are short.

First thing said:

"Don't leave us here."

Despite that first thing said, the writing is quite engaging and I'm being beguiled to read on because of the content (how disconnected ideas flow nicely from one to the other) and style. As in this paragraph on page four:

This is a self-help book. It's to show you how to get filthy rich.... And to do that it has to find you, huddled, shivering, on the packed earth under your mother's cot.... Your anguish is the anguish of a boy whose chocolate has been thrown away, whose remote controls are out of batteries, whose scooter is busted, whose new sneakers have been stolen. This is all the more remarkable since you've never in your life seen any of these things.

This is positive preambling, as it entertains with ulterior motives that go beyond a mere plug.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Abominable by Dan Simmons

The three of us learn about Mallory and Irvine's disappearance on Mount Everest while we are eating lunch on the summit of the Matterhorn.

There is an author introduction that begins this book, but I skipped that. Glancing over it, I assume it has something to do with the making of this novel or the inspiration or something like that behind it. If I'm wrong, it's because I didn't read it because I'm not interested because it doesn't have anything to do with the story.

Back to sentence one: Here we have three men on a mountain - eating lunch when they get, I suspect, some bad news. People disappearing is mildly interesting. When it happens in the news, most people take notice. Luckily, I'm well read enough to know who Mallory is and where Mount Everest is so, so far so good. The author cleverly establishes the time period without giving us the date.

Except: It is a perfect day in late June of 1924... begins paragraph two.

The second paragraph suggests how this long novel is paced. The food they are eating is documented. It doesn't hook, but it does make me hungry, so there is that little success, assuming that was the author's intention. It's a weird list of the rucksack contents: ...a goatskin of wine, two water bottles, three oranges, 100 feet of climbing rope, and a bulky salami.

We assume they aren't planning to eat the 100 feet of rope. Oh, and next time I'm at the supermarket, I'm going to ask to see some bulky salami because when I google "bulky salami", Google can't find any. Perhaps bulky salami is referring to something else?

Page one continues on by telling us what these characters had been up to for the past six days, and reads like a creatively crafted tourist brochure. Well done.

First thing said:

"Carrel and his team were there."

Sorry Mr. Simmons, I like a lot of your previous work, but...

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 4 November 2013

Classified by Fern Michaels

Having tossed and turned for the past hour, Abby finally rolled over and looked at the alarm clock.

Nothing to write home about here, just a little insomnia. It's a really long prologue and it bores me before I can turn the first page. There's a dream sequence. I assume it's important, but as I'm one of those people who thinks dreams are insanity leaking out of the brain cells and that they have nothing to do with reality (or the story of a fictional reality), I roll my eyes.

Chapter one:

"Simpson...No I mean Clay."

The confusion is explained thus:

"I'm recently married." Well not that recently. They'd just celebrated their first wedding anniversary last month.

You'd think that after being married a year people would know what their last names are, either that, or this lady isn't that gung ho about being married. Either way, a bit ditzy if you ask me. Generally, I don't like reading about such characters because stupidity annoys me, but in particular, it's usually just the author trying to be clever at establishing a voice at the expense of plot and characterization. I mean, are readers really that sympathetic to stupid characters nowadays - you know, the ones who can't remember their last names?

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

The story I'm about to tell could be judged preposterous.

Is the beginning of the book a review about the book? I don't mind when writers establish voice early on, but it would be nice if it were in conjunction with a plot - you know, a story. Instead, we are promised something interesting. Couldn't that just have been put on the back of the book or on the cover?

The rest follows like this:

Fine. Judge how you must. Protect yourself by scare-quoting me as the so-called psychic, the so-called victim of a psychic attack. Quarantine this account however you must so that you can safely hear it. What happened to me could never happen to you.

The next paragraph begins:

Tell yourself that...

We get it already. This is an out of this world story that I will be sorry for putting down and never finishing. Let's dump the plug and get on with the story.

What follows is a POV mash-up. First person, second person and third person all jumbled together. I don't like when a writer talks to me, the reader, directly. It's a cheap attempt to pull me into the story and I resist - I'm willful that way. Plus, it sounds pretentious and snooty, almost as if the writer is talking down to the reader. If you like being talked down to, then by all means, read on.

I'm not the only one who dislikes this, as the library copy I'm using has the page folded on the first page. Who would stop a reading session and fold the page at page one? The next folded page is page three. The next after that is page fifteen.

Part one begins:

The attack, we later agreed, occurred at Madame Ackermann's forty-third birthday party.

This is a little better. But we already know about an attack from the prologue or whatever that was before, so this is reiterating, which is irritating.

First thing said:

"You know Julia."

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Six Years by Harlan Coben

I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I would ever love marry another man.

This has a kind of conflict that most people can relate to. I feel for the guy since I'd had a similar experience -  though she wasn't the only woman I'd ever loved.

What follows is a description of Natalie, the only woman he'd ever love. It's a scene with enough awkwardness to keep people reading, as just about everyone has been on one end or the other of unrequited love. However, the pages start to drag as the pathetic nature of rejection and self-torment rambles on until it stops abruptly with the word:


Yes, enough; let's get on with the mystery.

First thing said:

"Hello, Jake."

Very nondescript dialogue opening. Hopefully characters will have more to say than mere superfluous chit-chat.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 1 November 2013

Cage of Bones by Tania Carver

It was a house of secrets.

Does anyone know the word cliche in Gaelic? On the surface this sentence hooks, but when we stop and think about it, how can it? It is too broad, too general and could mean quite literally anything. It is cliche because it brings to mind every dark old house ever used by Hollywood from the 1930's on. That motif has been done to death and for good reason as it always seems to appeal to the next generation unaware the wheel has already been reinvented.

Ultimately, what we have here is a setting of sorts, and no conflict, as secrets aren't in themselves conflicts.

The rest of the first paragraph:

Dark secrets, old secrets.

And the next paragraph:

Bad secrets.

I hear my big brother's voice whispering underneath a bed sheet as he tries to figure out how best to scare me. I'm giggling.

First thing said:

"What you waitin' for?"

This author believes in the power of incomplete and incoherent sentence structure, which is really a hackneyed attempt at soliciting emotion via punctuation. Here are a few in no particular order:

Felt it, sensed it.
A solid shadow, deeper than black.
And that was where Cam came in.
Walked on.
Tried to get hold of himself.
And it was old.
Then the fence.
A horror film monster.
And beyond all that was the house itself.
Or nowhere. 

Maybe this is about getting revenge on a mean grade one teacher.

Last line of the book:

The tightrope holding.

Verdict: Fail (yawn)

Theodore Moracht